2009-01-26

Linkedin: Designing a business to be 'flexible' - what does that mean and how would one go about it?

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Designing a business to be 'flexible' - what does that mean and how would one go about it?
I started a discussion a few days ago about the 3 P's of a professional organization. There were many thoughtful responses and I have enjoyed hearing from everyone. Nice group of people. Several of the responses referred to the idea of having a flexible company or needing to be able to quickly adapt. I am old enough to know that when people use words they may mean something very different than what I am thinking. So my question to you is What does it mean to be a flexible comany? What does that look like? I need tangibles, not ethereal explanations. I would like responses to tell me exactly what I would need to do if I were CEO of a company to have it be flexible, capable of adapting to unexpected events. Looking forward to hearing from you. www.stankirkwood.com

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I will talk about flexibility of the enterprise BPM systems as an architect (this is from the book "Improving enterprise BPM systems" www.improving-BPM-systems.com).

It is considered that each process-centric enterprise has its own BPM system -- a portfolio of business processes of the enterprise, as well as the practices and tools for governing the design, execution and evolution of this portfolio as a system.

Our experience shows that the business usually wants separate requests for change in the IT environment to be implemented quickly. These changes are typically small (from the point of view of the business staff) but unpredictable (from the point of view of IT staff). The current practices of software development have failed to provide a good solution to this challenge.
• “80 % of software life cycle costs occur during the maintenance phase”, and
• “80 % of maintenance is due to unmet or unforeseen user requirements”.

Actually, any BPM system is a complex and dynamic set of interconnected and interdependent business artefacts: events, processes, rules, roles, objects, services, etc. The evolution of some artefacts and the relationships between them is necessary to accommodate typical changes in policies, priorities, compliance, technology, laws, etc. So, to be agile and responsive in business, it must be easy to modify all artefacts and their relationships without causing any negative effects (e.g. unexpected delays and undesired consequences) in any part of the BPM system.

A characteristic of BPM systems is the high level of non-trivial linkage between different artefacts. This requires a focus not only on individual artefacts (breaking a system into constituent parts), but also on how these artefacts are interlinked between themselves and with the external environment. The importance of relationships is based on the approach (based on systems thinking) that the individual parts of a system can be best understood by looking at them in the context of their relationships with each other and with other systems, rather than in isolation. An example of a complex relationship is a process template which is an aggregation of events, human and automated activities, roles, objects, rules, audits, etc.

Because a particular improvement (created as a set of modifications) may be spread between different parts, different processes, different stakeholders and different technologies, to achieve transparency and a general comprehension, it is necessary to have a coherent set of guiding principles which are mandatory for all parts of the enterprise business system. These are architectural principles from a architecture framework for improving enterprise BPM systems.
• All artefacts must be versionable throughout their lifecycle
• All artefacts must evolve to become digital, externalised and virtual
• All relationships between artefacts must be modelled explicitly
• All models must be made to be executable

The architectural framework is not about how to make your products better, different and more attractive for the market place – this is for the top managers to decide. What it offers is to help enterprises reduce the overheads in doing so. The reduction will come from continual improvements in the BPM system itself – each new project will be carried out under the same architecting and implementation guidelines and practical help, thus aligning people’s understanding and different practices, tools, methods, processes and services. At one moment, your flexible BPM system will become an enabler for your business innovations.

Thanks,
AS
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